Cleaner Water Smaller Boats Happier People
We are just a couple of guys with ideas, about building interesting stuff like canoes and furniture, making a living while having a life and not trampling hell out of the environment in the process. Balancing creativity with appropriate technology, pre-industrial to the present, how we get there matters. A lot. We need to discuss why we do things, as well as how we do them.
Our current project is a strip-planked canoe, 10’6″ long, weighing about 20 pounds. This is our second canoe, we are learning by doing, making mistakes, reading books and searching the internet. The first canoe is documented here. If you are interested in learning how to build your own canoe, please follow along and learn with us.
Should you go inside a big box store to buy a canoe [PLEASE DON’T], the range of materials used is limited, neither sustainable nor renewable. The range of designs is limited as well, simultaneously answering the requirements of roto-molded plastics, quarterly profit margins, and product liability lawyers.
If you’re looking to buy that canoe or kayak [PLEASE DON’T], the material is most likely polyethylene, plastic made from petroleum. When you finally wear out that canoe or wrap it around a rock or it gets a big hole in it, the plastic will take hundreds of years to decompose (unless you burn it, of course) and ends up polluting our environment. [In fact, there’s a gigantic floating island of plastic and other garbage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (think Life of Pi, not The Graduate) and little fish starve to death with their guts full of tiny bits of plastic.]
The canoe [Rushton Wee Lassie] that we are building weighs 20 pounds, strip-planked from renewable, sustainable wood reinforced with fiberglass and epoxy. Compare with the new Old Town NEXT solo canoe, 49 pounds of plastic from stem to stern.
[btw: The PolyOne factory in Warsaw, Indiana was the sole-source supplier of Royalex. Equivalent materials for canoemakers do not exist as of January 2014.]
Our Wee Lassie isn’t perfect, just much further upstream than plastic boats. We’re changing course, building lightweight boats that won’t leave a big carbon footprint. With reasonable care, they should last 20 years. Enough time to build more boats with your kids, explore small streams, and enjoy nature closer to home. Cleaner water, smaller boats, happier people.
“The canoe implies a long antiquity in which its manufacture has been gradually perfected. It will, ere long, perhaps be ranked among the lost arts.” -Thoreau
Boatbuilding by Howard Chapelle, Norton 1941. This is the granddaddy of boatbuilding books, anyone who has even the slightest interest in wooden boats should have a copy.
The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard Chapelle, Smithsonian 1964. The definitive source for birchbark canoe or traditional kayak construction.
The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee, FS&G 1975. Vintage McPhee, follows on Adney’s work (above) and Thoreau. If you haven’t read John McPhee, get thee to a bookstore…
How to Build a Tin Canoe by Robb White 2003. Possibly one of the most entertaining books ever. When we master building Wee Lassie, the next boat will certainly be Robb White’s Sport Boat.